Culture-led wellbeing: Exploring the changing skills of the cultural workforce

Amisha Karia (University of Leicester and University of Oxford Gardens, Libraries and Museums)

Supervised by: Dr Nuala Morse and Professor Richard Sandell (University of Leicester) and Dr Harriet Warburton (Oxford University Gardens, Libraries & Museums) and Gina Koutsika (Ashmolean Museum) 

Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)

Oxford University Gardens, Libraries and Museums (GLAM) has an established portfolio of innovative health and wellbeing programs embedded in its strategic plan. This collaborative PhD project provides a unique opportunity for an in-depth, multi-site PhD research project to explore wellbeing focused cultural initiatives in terms of scale, audience and collection. 

There is a growing body of research demonstrating the benefits of engaging in cultural activities for mental health and for patients with dementia, cancer, and in physical recovery (Chatterjee and Noble, 2013; APPG Arts, Health and Wellbeing, 2017) as well as the potential for culture-led public health interventions, including social prescription models of delivery (Camic and Chatterjee, 2015), that supports this practice. As this area continues to develop, cultural workers are adapting their engagement practices to the health and social care sector (Morse, 2021). Moreover, the UK has seen a rapid increase in interest in policy surrounding the area of culture and wellbeing (Arts Council England 2020-30 strategy) and the rapid emergence, especially during COVID, of new cultural roles connected to wellness work. The influence of these shifts on professional skill sets and organisational frameworks for cultural institutions have not yet been fully explored. Now is a crucial time to explore this new and evolving field of practice. 

This research project investigates the distinct skills, knowledge and competencies of culture sector professionals whose work is focused on health and wellbeing benefits, and how is the expansion of this type of work changing the cultural sector. It will specifically consider how cultural and heritage sector professionals view their emerging roles in relation to health and wellbeing activity; what knowledge, skills and competencies are viewed as critical for this practice; how these skills map onto engagement with different types of collections; what organisational structures are required to support this work, and what are the wider implications for organisational change in the cultural sector.

This PhD research project uses a qualitative methodology, drawing from organisational ethnography. It focuses on selected GLAM case studies to provide a unique insight into the lived experiences of cultural professionals. The study includes in-depth interviews and reflective group sessions with culture professionals, and supplementary interviews with health/social care professionals.

Amisha holds a MSc in Social Science Research and MA in Art Gallery and Museum Studies both from University of Leicester and an BA in Arts Management and History of Art from De Montfort University. Her interests include the use and management of museum collections, workforce development, health and wellbeing. She is currently works as the Collection Curator at Bethlem Gallery and is a Trustee at Collections Trust and the Beecroft Bequest. Her previous roles include: Fundraising & Partnerships Manager at Bethlem Gallery & Museum of Mind; Head of Collection, Loans & Programmes at Paintings in Hospitals; Exhibitions & Collections Manager at the University of Hertfordshire.